Should parents drink in front of the kids?

Dear Pragmatic Parent: I’ve been invited to a"happy hour play date” by some other moms with kids close in age to my kids. Every Friday afternoon, they gather with their kids in tow and crack open toys for the kids and wine for themselves.

I’m no teetotaler, but I’m hesitant to attend. I’m worried that there will be some negative effects on my 4-year-old and 2-year-old from seeing us consume alcohol. Are we parents doing harm when we drink in front of the kids?

—Cheers (or Not) in Chicago

Being around little kids from sun-up to sun-down can drive many of us to seek relaxation from a tequila sunrise or two with friends. But should we keep the bottle hidden behind our backs, or imbibe openly?

“A lot of parents and adults have a bit of a misconception that if they even drink at all, in any form, or if their kids know they drink, that that’s somehow negative modeling,” says Dr. Gary Hill, a clinical psychologist and director of clinical services at The Family Institute at Northwestern University who specializes in addictions."That’s just basically not true.”

While the fear is that a child will start experimenting with alcohol at an earlier age if he sees his parents drinking, Hill dispels that myth. He says that if you’re a caring, nurturing parent who provides a consistent routine, you’ve probably established an unshakable emotional bond with your child. It’s this critical bond that provides the foundation for a strong family—and a decreased chance for problems later on in the teen years. So, if you exercise moderation and set an example of not drinking and driving, there’s no need to feel sheepish about an occasional cocktail.

If your kids are older, do you feel like a hypocrite telling your 16-year-old to never drink while you sip a Chardonnay?

“It’s only hypocritical if you’re a hypocrite,” Hill says. There are reasons why it’s illegal for a 16-year-old to drink, and being direct with your teen that it’s illegal and that you hope he refrains from alcohol is the way to go. And if you’ve set limits from the beginning with your kid, there’s a good chance he won’t resist following those limits now.

What really riles Hill—and what he does believe is hypocritical—is when parents provide alcohol to their children at home, ostensibly to teach them how to be"responsible” with booze. Minors are minors, at home or at that party down the street, and we’re short-changing our kids when we ignore this fact.

Dear Pragmatic Parent: My mother-in-law curses often and doesn’t realize it. Meanwhile, my 2-year old daughter is a parrot, repeating everything she hears. How can I delicately handle this without offending my mother-in-law?

—Put Off by Profanity in Chicago

Instead of worrying about offending your mother-in-law, consider the people your daughter will offend when she swears like a sailor. For example, will it be in front of that nice grocery store clerk, the preschool teacher or your pastor?

Since your mother-in-law doesn’t sound like the delicate type, be direct and respectful in your request for self-censoring. Privately, give her examples of what she’s uttered and how it’s been replayed by her granddaughter. Chances are, she’ll be unaware of (and embarrassed by) her habit.

Dear Pragmatic Parent: While attending the birthday party for a 4-year-old at one of those"interactive gyms,” one of the dads was overly attentive to the kids—especially my daughter. This is not the first time I have noticed his behavior with children at parties. This makes me very uncomfortable. They live in the same neighborhood, so we see them frequently. If it happens again, how do I address the situation without offending people?

—Alarmed in Chicago

You don’t say what this dad was doing, but a pragmatic parent trusts her instincts—and acts.

There are good reasons to worry and wonder. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that one in five adult women and one in 10 adult men say they were sexually abused as children. Sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members and non-family members alike, and in eight out of 10 reported cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.

The AAP recommends taking charge of the situation if you suspect abuse, but that doesn’t mean trying to take care of it by yourself. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, a counselor, a police officer, a child protective service worker or a teacher to devise a plan—including whether or not to confront the father directly.

If you think that talking to someone might be blowing things out of proportion since you’re not sure abuse even occurred, ask yourself what this person might do if no one had been around watching him. Protect your daughter—and someone else’s.

There are ways to prepare and protect kids against abuse. The AAP says to teach kids as young as 18 months old the proper names for genitals and that they are private. Talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching, and how to say"no.”

Thinking about sexual abuse is unpleasant, but not preparing our kids for the possibility of it is risky.

Agree? Disagree? Have an observation, rant or pet peeve about parenting? Send an e-mail to

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